There were many times that my ex narcopath just demanded that I do something…and I did. Even if I didn’t really want to, and I knew I didn’t want to, I did what he told me to do much of the time. When he insisted we get married and I knew I was unsure, I just let him bully me into it. When I look back, that sounds really stupid of me. Why would I just do what an abuser told me to do even if I didn’t want to? It was truly like I was under a spell!
Oddly enough, this isn’t unusual. Even when we aren’t dealing with a narcissist or sociopath, psychology has shown that people often do what they are told–sometimes even when it is harmful to others! Something in our human nature makes us feel obligated to obey authority figures.
A researcher named Stanley Milgram did work in the 1960s to try to understand why people do what they are told–specifically in regards to people who were part of the Nazi regime. The first time I heard this idea was actually through a song, so I had no idea what it meant when I was kid listening to Peter Gabriel’s We Do What We’re Told (Milgram’s 37) Turns out, he was singing about this research and I didn’t know it until a few years later! After I started thinking about my experiences with my ex narcopath, this information helped me understand why I was just obeying my abuser, (and the song stuck in my head a lot!)
Milgram wanted to understand if Nazi followers were truly disordered and evil, or if they were blindly taking orders. It’s hard to understand how a few sociopaths could get so many otherwise normal people to do such horrible things, (although after dealing with my own ex narcopath, I have watched it happen on a smaller scale.) Very basically, he asked volunteers to give people electrical shocks for giving wrong answers to questions, and told them to raise the electricity level gradually. Fortunately, the “victims” on the other side were actors and they were not really being electrocuted, but the volunteers believed they were electrocuting people. Most of them continued doing it and following the experiment like they were told to do–even when they were nervous about hurting the other person. There is a lot more detail that I won’t copy here, but here are some links for more information:
Even though these studies are about whether or not people were willing to hurt others just to obey, the conclusions indicated that people do what they are told because we are trained to from a young age. In the study, the volunteers saw the researchers as authority figures and felt obligated to follow them. It’s not exactly the same, but it reminds me of the way my ex was very aggressive and demanding, and put himself in charge, so I was intimidated and just followed his demands. In the same way, his flying monkeys just take his word and never question that his stories don’t line up.
I know not all sociopaths are the same, but mine in particular was a very aggressive alpha male. People have told me that the way he stood and held his shoulders, as well as the way he glared without blinking made them feel uncomfortable even though they didn’t really have a reason to think he was dangerous. He has a loud booming voice, and people just follow him. It’s an interesting phenomenon.
There are so many psychological realities about human nature that work together and allow narcissists to get away with their behavior so easily, and this is just another piece of the puzzle.